Archive for January, 2011

“Special Avalanche Advisory”

January 21, 2011

What a year it’s been so far in the mountains of British Columbia. Frigid temperatures east of the Rogers Pass and into the Rocky Mountain Trench combined with one of the lowest snowpacks in recent history (up to the week of January 10 – 15) created that horrible sugary snow that just sits on top of scree, waiting for fresh snowfall to trigger a slide. On the Coast, epic snowfalls in November and December keep rollin’ (with a cold snap thrown in for good measure between Dec 27 and Jan 3) – followed by a return to major dumpage. Then, two warm, moist storms hit – the first a fairly normal Pineapple Express on Jan 5/6, followed by a Pineapple Punch on January 14-16. Temperatures during this time – esp last Sunday – hit 14 degrees in Vancouver. Rain drenched every summmit from the Coquihalla to Rogers Pass. Then, as quickly as it happened, temperatures plummeted again, and storms in the Interior were accompanied by high winds. During the Monday/Tuesday stretch, avalanches in the Columbia region released on literally every aspect. Veteran forecaster Karl Klassen, of candidly wrote in a report earlier this week: “I must stress that several of these avalanches surprised professionals, some of whom are very senior practitioners with many, many years of experience.”

Earlier, today, the CAA issued this warning:

Natural, explosive, and human triggered avalanches with crowns of 100 – 400 cm releasing on a variety of persistent weak layers and even the ground are being reported. Weather is forecast to improve over the next few days. Natural activity is expected to slow down or even stop but human triggering of large, destructive, un-survivable avalanches is expected to continue for several days at least. Don’t let good weather and a lack of natural avalanche activity fool you into thinking it’s ok to go into larger, steeper, or more aggressive terrain. It is recommended you stay out of avalanche terrain entirely in all alpine areas.

The fear is that although natural releases have already taken place, that the weight of skiers and snowmobilers heading into the backcountry will trigger massive new slides on highly unstable layers still buried close to ground level. Sunny skies are predicted through much of the province for the weekend, and if crowds in the backcountry are anything like they were two weeks ago, virtually every parking lot and pullout will be jammed with sledders and skeirs.

That said, avalanche reporting and safety gear (ABS bags, better beacons, sturdier shovels and probes) have  improved dramatically over the past decade, but – as Klassen himself would point out – we’re still constantly challenged by what causes one slope to slide, and not the other. As someone who just dropped big $$$ on a new touring rig, I can hardly wait to get out there. But let’s not let our enthusiasm get in the way of common sense. Ironically, today’s report comes on the very same day that various tributes to Craig Kelly (deceased snowboarder who was caught in a deadly slide in 2002) were posted on Facebook…

Read the full advisory.

In this incredible macro photo by adventure photographer Greg Maurer, you can truly see how fragile hoar crystals really are.


3 book reviews in the new Ski Trax magazine…

January 20, 2011

He’s still ridiculously slow to pay his contributors, but it appears that Ski Trax publisher Benj Sadovoy out of Toronto has turned a corner with Ski Trax, one of only two Nordic-oriented magazines in North America (you won’t find Trax or Cross Country Skier at your local 7-11; indeed, even specialty magazine stores don’t always carry it). The current “Holiday” issue (mine arrived yesterday, maybe Ben is thinking about Chinese New Year) contains my regular ‘Backcountry’ column that contains reviews of three ski-related books – Leslie Anthony’s White Planet, Chris Davenport and Penn Newhard’s Fifty Classic Ski Descents of North America, and Topher Donohue’s Bugaboo Dreams. I originally wrote the column thinking that these books would make great Christmas gifts, and that’s the case. You might just have to buy them NEXT Christmas, is all. In the meantime, if you’re ‘nuts for Nordic,’ as they say, find a copy of Ski Trax or tour their incredibly news-packed website. The blogroll of athlete diaries is well worth checking out. Since this is the internet and everything is free, just click on the scan, below, and ‘magnify’ to read the reviews.

Deep Winter Photo Challenge – Can a ‘Boarder Shooter Win?

January 17, 2011

The Deep Winter Photo Challenge – Whistlerites’ favourite annual event – elbowed its way past the concierge, ran through the lobby, and set up shop in the ballroom of the Fairmont Chateau Whistler last night. 1200 spectators jammed in and a rowdy tone for the evening was set by the very first photographer – shooter/geologist Andrew Strain – whose rootsy images were matched only by the jaunty Celtic style soundtrack.

During the Deep Winter Photo Challenge, professional photographers shoot in-bounds at Whistler Blackcomb for three days capturing athletes in their natural mountain habitat of powder filled bowls, trees, and après bars.

I am a bit mystified as to the actual criteria, however. The winner is pronounced “King of Storms” – but does that mean dark, brooding images trump bright, cheery, colourful ones? Did Jordan Manley beat Morrison last year because Paul had way more light and colour (and blue sky) in his?

Last night, the ever affable emcee Mike Douglas (apparently battling a vicious case of the flu) took some pot shots at the ‘bluebird’ pow imagery often used by various marketing departments in making Whistler look pristine and pretty, when the reality is often far more gritty.

So, that makes me wonder. Does a guy get marked down for showing blue sky? Neon outfits? Sunsets? Must every shot reference “storms” and must every presentation have chunks of snow/water droplets zigzagging down the gondola windows?

I’ll be honest – it looked to me as though winner Blake Jorgenson took a hard look at the kind of images and music that Jordan had used in the past and either paid homage to that – or ripped him off – depending on your point of view.

Coming after Blake’s moody imagery and over-wrought Inception soundtrack, I thought that John Scarth’s rocking snowboarders and rapid fire music really nailed it – especially the motor-drive multi-frames per second action imagery. These guys were having fun! What a concept! They drank beer afterwards to celebrate! Nice!

One criteria that I’m curious about is ‘video prohibited’. Did Scarth’s motor drive sequences come too close being ‘still video’, and did he lose points because of it? There was a guy last year – maybe two years ago – another snowboard photographer who showed rapid-fire sequences. Is this a no-no? It’s an effect I quite like, but maybe it’s against the rules – real or perceived. Whatever – he finished out of the running.

One must wonder: four of the judges – Les Anthony, Jordan Manley, Mike Berard, and Eric Berger – make their living from skiing, not snowboarding. Berger has shot snowboarding quite a bit before, true – but seems to have crossed over more into skiing. When I saw that Jorgenson was one of the invited contestants, it all seemed to be a bit of a foregone conclusion to me, especially when I found out who the judges were. Don’t get me wrong – all the judges are great guys – but their collective skiing bias informs their work as judges. It simply cannot be otherwise. Snowboarding is a different mountain sport than skiing is, and its imagery is reflected back in a different manner than skiing. I’m not sure whether snowboard photographers get around on skis or a board, but that would have its limits as well – maybe snowboard shooters have the deck stacked against them from the beginning for that reason

To give the judges the benefit of the doubt, I know they see the presentations – what is it – three times? – and during that time, a certain presentation likely will grow on you, in the same way that a pop song that doesn’t quite grab you the first time will.

As I told Susan Reifer, I think that Robin O’Neill did the best job of storytelling – hey, who can resist the story of an attractive female ski patroller who hucks bombs and – wow, she’s a mom, too! That’s a great story! Her use of Photoshop and the truly ‘professional’ gloss of her images created a really stand-out show, and I thought that she might have won. Alas, betting against Blake is like betting against Eastwood at the Academy Awards.

Then again, I thought Morrison was robbed last year, so what do I know?

Deep Winter Photo Challenge Well Named…

January 13, 2011

OK, we’re entering the middle of what, the fourth major storm cycle of the year for Whistler Blackcomb, or the fifth? Kinda losing count, here. Anyway, one of the most creative mountain festivals takes place this weekend, and that’s the 5th annual Deep Winter Photo Challenge. This one is truly for insomniac image-makers who love nothing better than slaving over a hot Mac and manipulating images and music at 4:00 am. The deal is this: During the Deep Winter Photo Challenge, professional photographers shoot in-bounds at Whistler Blackcomb for three days capturing athletes in their natural mountain habitat of powder filled bowls, trees, and après bars. Then, the photographer has to go back, edit all the images, set up a groovy soundtrack, and compress it all into a five minute or so show. Words really don’t do it justice – simply watch excerpts from last year’s entry by renowned Whistler shooter Paul Morrison and his wise-ass son Ian. (Hmm, in trying to bring up a link for Paulie’s photography, I see that there is ANOTHER relatively renowned photographer named Paul Morrison!). These five photographers include Whistler heavyweight Blake Jorgenson, but no, he cannot use a sled to access terrain so Blake may find that somewhat limiting…)

Presented by my employer Arc’teryx, this event will sell out (maybe it already has) and with tons of snow falling on Whistler in the past two days, will surely stoke your soul for the rest of the winter.

Will you VIMFF?? You Should!

January 12, 2011

OK, so one of my New Year’s Resolutions was to stay up to date with the blogging. So, it’s Jan 11 (soon to be Jan 12) and – as with all of my other 2011 resolutions – I’m a bit behind. Time to get the lead out. One job I’ve taken on for 2011 is volunteering to run PR interference for the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival. Now in its 14th year, from Feb. 11 – 19, VIMFF will be screening some of the very best adventure films in climbing, mountain biking, whitewater and ocean paddling, backcountry skiing and environment causes/issues.

Then, there are the guest speakers. This outstanding lineup of local and international superstars includes:

  • Greg Hill (Canada), backcountry skier who successfully became the first person to climb/ski 2 million vertical feet in one year
  • Ines Papert (Deutschland), perhaps the strongest female alpine climber of all time
  • Timmy O’Neill (USA), known as “America’s most outrageous climber”
  • Steve Swenson (USA), the current president of the American Alpine Club
  • Bryan Smith (Canada), award winning film maker and kayaker par excellence
  • Sean McColl (Canada), rock climbing world champion
  • Jasmin Caton (Canada), emerging climbing talent from Squamish

The big news is that you can BUY YOUR TICKETS NOW; either go online at, at the Centennial Theatre, 2300 Lonsdale Avenue, North Vancouver, or from the MEC stores in Vancouver and North Vancouver. Advanced individual tickets are $18, with packages of 2 and 3 tickets available at $30 and $40. Note that tickets to the most popular screenings/speakers are expected to sell out in advance.

More info on some of these fantastic guest speakers as time goes on. Join the VIMFF Facebook page and subscribe to the news feeds for up to date information… Hard to believe it’s been fourteen years – I was a judge at the very first VIMFF, with Tami Knight and Dugald McDonald from Climbing magazine. Or, was it Rock & Ice?